When he was in Dallas on Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence echoed the optimistic tone of the White House and President Trump when it comes to COVID-19, even though cases and hospitalizations have accelerated in Texas at an alarming pace. After congratulating Gov. Greg Abbott on reopening the state at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Pence promised even more testing for Texas. Now as testing sites are being overwhelmed and people are waiting nearly eight days for test results, that promise feels like wishful thinking.
A photographer for The Dallas Morning News who was in a helicopter above the Ellis David Field testing site in Dallas estimated cars were lined up for two miles. This is a federally funded testing facility with 1,000 tests.
A similar scene played out in North Dallas at another testing site at the University of Dallas where cars were lined up on the frontage road of Highway 114. This site is a public-private partnership testing site, after the federally funded testing location at the American Airlines Center closed down. This location only has 650 tests available. It is only available to Dallas county residents and they must provide proof of residence.
In an interview with KDFW-TV Randall Payton, the incident commander for Dallas, stressed that those trying to visit drive-thru testing sites should have enough gas. “Be prepared for long waits. Just be patient with the healthcare workers and the city and county workers as we’re trying to serve you in the testing.”
At the end of June, it was reported that the Trump administration was going to end seven federally funded testing states across the state. After broad bipartisan pushback on that plan, the White House reversed its stance for five of those locations.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who criticized Judge Lina Hidalgo for warning three weeks ago that Harris County was on the precipice of disaster, appeared in a video on his Twitter assuring Texans that those federally funded sites would have simply transitioned towards local control. “Your ability to get a test was never imperiled and never will be imperiled,” Crenshaw said.
But the struggle to obtain a test is real for thousands of Texans. All across the state, testing sites are inundated. Many are forced to close even before noon.
In Travis County, free tests are being limited to those that are severely ill. Asymptomatic patients who fear they may have been exposed have to turn to private facilities. Those private facilities often only work with Texans who have health insurance. Even before COVID-19, Texas led the country in the number of uninsured.
Many immigrant groups are raising concerns that undocumented Texans, or those with undocumented family members are frightened of getting tested or hospitalized.
With testing sites overwhelmed, results from COVID-19 tests are also taking longer to process. At federal sites in Dallas, the wait time to receive results is on average eight days.
State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. has been sounding the alarm on his social media feeds, including Twitter. “You can continue to say tests are available, we’re doing the most testing in the world, testing capacity is unprecedented, but those statements don’t reflect the reality on the ground. The reality is it can take days to get a test [and] days to get the result of that test.”
In a comment to the Texas Signal, Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia acknowledged that the “federal and state response has been slow and erratic.” Garcia says the county is currently in a position to do the best it can with the resources and partners available.
Now, as Abbott mandates face masks for Texans in public, the state is teetering on the brink of a true health disaster. Texas is half the size of Italy, and yet the number of new cases of COVID-19 has eclipsed the nation that was at one time the epicenter of the pandemic for four straight days.
Testing is clearly inadequate, but it’s not apparent if the governor is going to do anything to change that. Until then, any Texan seeking a test from a federal site really does need to make sure their gas tank is full.
Photo: Dan Tian/Xinhua via Getty Images